, Volume 41, Issue 7-8, pp 1769-1800,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 16 Jan 2013

Can added value be expected in RCM-simulated large scales?


Nested Limited-Area Models require driving data to define their lateral boundary conditions (LBC). The optimal choice of domain size and the repercussions of LBC errors on Regional Climate Model (RCM) simulations are important issues in dynamical downscaling work. The main objective of this paper is to investigate the effect of domain size, particularly on the larger scales, and to question whether an RCM, when run over very large domains, can actually improve the large scales compared to those of the driving data. This study is performed with a detailed atmospheric model in its global and regional configurations, using the “Imperfect Big-Brother” (IBB) protocol. The ERA-Interim reanalyses and five global simulations are used to drive RCM simulations for five winter seasons, on four domain sizes centred over the North American continent. Three variables are investigated: precipitation, specific humidity and zonal wind component. The results following the IBB protocol show that, when an RCM is driven by perfect LBC, its skill at reproducing the large scales decreases with increasing the domain of integration, but the errors remain small even for very large domains. On the other hand, when driven by LBC that contain errors, RCMs can bring some reduction of errors in large scales when very large domains are used. The improvement is found especially in the amplitude of patterns of both the stationary and the intra-seasonal transient components. When large errors are present in the LBC, however, these are only partly corrected by the RCM. Although results showed that an RCM can have some skill at improving imperfect large scales supplied as driving LBC, the main added value of an RCM is provided by its small scales and its skill to simulate extreme events, particularly for precipitation. Under the IBB protocol all RCM simulations were fairly skilful at reproducing small scales statistics, although the skill decreased with increasing LBC errors. Coarse-resolution model simulations have difficulties in simulating heavy precipitation events, and as a result their precipitation distributions are systematically shifted toward smaller intensity. Under the IBB protocol, all RCM simulations have distributions very similar to the reference field, being little affected by LBC errors, and no significant differences were found between the small scales statistics and the precipitation distributions obtained over different RCM domains.